The sixth annual Ignite Conference, held March 4–7, 2016, offered 77 graduate business, science, engineering and medical students a deep immersion in startups—and the chance to meet some of the most successful and up-and-coming entrepreneurs in the Bay Area. Co-hosted by the UC Davis Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship and Rice University, Ignite included a day of site visits in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley and two days hearing from entrepreneurial leaders at the UC Davis campus.
The conference drew students from UC Davis, Rice University, Baylor, the University of Houston and Lamar University.
The startups and VC firms visited read like a who’s who of innovation and success, including Lyft, Dropbox, Square, Blend Labs and LendUp in San Francisco. On the Peninsula and in Silicon Valley, students met with MAANA, Benchmark Capital, Skype, Box, Five Prime Therapeutics, Gilead Sciences, Proteus Digital Health and Alloy Ventures
“I was struck by the power of experiencing the real challenges that CEOs face,” said institute Executive Director Cleveland Justis. “It is one thing to read about it and completely different when you’re at the company living the challenges of leadership firsthand.”
On campus the following two days, Ignite participants heard from scientist, venture capitalist, professor and philanthropist Jack Gill; Cate Dyer, founder and CEO of StemExpress; Leah Goold-Haws with Girls Gone Global; Nicholas Seet, co-founder of SIVI.com; Pam Marrone, founder and CEO of Marrone BioInnovations; John Bissell, co-founder and CEO of Micromidas Inc.; Mark Otero, founder of KlickNation; and Andrew Smith with AT Dynamics Inc.
“The connections I have made are incredible, and the opportunity to meet with and be inspired by such an amazing group is unparalleled.”
—Dan Perlea, MBA Student
The lessons learned were both broad and deep. Pedro Santos, founder and CEO of OSCOMP and HICOR Technologies, “delivered a valuable perspective of how the macro environment links to the success/failure of innovation.” Alex Schueller described how to identify commercial potential in underdeveloped technologies. Andrew Smith inspired Igniters with his commitment to alleviating environmental and energy-related issues, and Nicholas Seet offered raw insight into the uncertainties in his journey.
Mark Randall, chief strategist, VP of creativity at Adobe, received kudos for his perspective on the emotional side of entrepreneurship and his honesty about the hardships entrepreneurs face.
Participants praised the Ignite app, which included the conference agenda, a heavily used activity feed, participant profiles and resumes, a wildly successful photo feed, speaker profiles and more. The app was conceived and created by Noy Shemer, assistant managing director of OwlSpark, Rice University’s startup accelerator.
“You need to license this to other conferences and events,” said one participant. “It was really fun to see the photos and connect in a new way to the event.”
“People in Silicon Valley live in the future. I learned more in three days about running a business than in years of classroom experience.”
By conference end, the aspiring entrepreneurs were fueled up, passionate about the immersive exposure to the tech and startup communities, empowered by the connections they’d made, driven by new ideas, inspired to success and unafraid of failure.
“I was forced out of my comfort zone to network with and connect with other MBAs and engineers and learn from them and feed off of their excitement,” explained one. “It was an amazing, valuable experience. I am incredibly grateful.”
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